Our first morning in New York City began bright and early and I decided to accompany my morning coffee (hotel rooms should always have coffee makers in them by the way) with a little local TV. NY1 became our regular wake-up during our time in New York. It's both entertaining and informative. For example that morning it advised us that there was to be a homecoming parade for the New York Giants, what with them being Super Bowl champions and all. The Yorkshireman's plans for the day were still pretty, shall we say, "fluid" at that point, so he earmarked it as a possible activity.
I, on the other hand, had my day planned down to the last bus gate number and subway stop. I'm semi-accepting of a half-assed itinerary when I know the Yorkshireman will be there, firstly because I'm not stranded alone, and secondly because of the aforementioned internal GPS he seems to have. However when I know I'm going to be left to my own devices, I take off my glasses and become Super Neurotically Organised Woman! Not sure how to get from Penn Station to Wall Street? Fear not, my friend, for Super Neurotically Organised Woman has a subway map in her handbag! Not sure how much that admission cost will be? No worries, Super Neurotically Organised Woman is strong in the art of Google-Fu!
Super Neurotically Organised itinerary in hand, I bid adieu to the Yorkshireman outside our hotel, but not before he requested that I take some photos of my day's adventures. Given that I only have a rubbish phone camera and a hand so unsteady my pictures look like I've taken them from a vibrating plate, I was not confident about my ability to relate my day through the medium of photography. However I acquiesced (I will share the rubbishness with you throughout this post, you lucky things!) and headed off down into Penn Station…
… which was absolute bedlam! It was a veritable sea of NY Giants fans, all dressed in their team's colours and heading down to the parade. I had anticipated no problems at all buying my 7 day unlimited Metrocard, but I had not anticipated the mile-long lines to all of the machines!
A very helpful Metropolitan Transport Authority employee was trying to tell people that one of the machines was only accepting cards and the other had no change, so they could buy Metrocards at the Long Island Railroad windows instead. If more people had paid attention to him we might all have gotten out of there a lot quicker but as it was I stood and watched at least three groups ahead of me get to the machine and then look bewildered by the fact that they had to get a card with $20 minimum on it.
Eventually I made it to a machine, paid for my 7 day Metrocard with my FairFX card and was done within about 30 seconds. See, it's not that hard - even a dumb tourist can do it! All I had to do now was join the huge crowd of people now trying to get down to the subway platforms and try to squish on to a train.
In the end it wasn't so bad (I think people pushed me a bit less because of the crutch, which was a courtesy you'd be unlikely to receive on a Belfast bus let me tell ya!) and before I knew it I was outside Port Authority Bus Terminal. Before I set about actually getting a bus, I had a quick pit stop to make just around the corner.
You may recall last time I was in New York, I fell in love with the cupcakes. And that my quest for the world's best cupcake has taken me to several stores in New York, several stores in London and even one in Cardiff, not to mention my own city of Belfast (which is sadly disappointing on the cupcake front). This time, having read loads of articles and forum threads about "the best cupcakes in New York", I decided further research was required in person and set about making a list. Many of the cupcakes I wanted to sample were sadly just not going to work with our itinerary but I did manage to fit a few into the trip.
The first cupcake on my hit list was from Cupcake Café. What a strange little place. When I hear "cupcakes" I automatically think pink and fluffy and homely, but this little coffee shop was almost depressing inside. I also could not immediately see any sign of cupcakes until I looked right at the back of the shop where, amidst the gloom, was a display case housing a rainbow of the most delicately decorated little cupcakes. I kinda liked it - it was like finding hidden treasure.
"You want cupcakes?", a gruff-voiced man asked me. Clearly I just look like the type. "Yes please", I squeaked. We went to the back of the shop and I purchased a vanilla one (my baseline flavour for comparison purposes). Gruff guy gently placed the delicate little cake into a box and deftly tied it with string. He then thanked me for "coming to the ends of the earth" in a dry tone. He seemed surprised when I said it was because they had a good reputation.
Cupcake purchased, I headed across the road and into Port Authority. Thanks to our little trip out to Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken on our last trip, I already had some experience of this huge bus station and indeed with NJ Transit buses. And thanks also to my Super Neurotically Organised itinerary, I knew that I wanted the 111 bus, which would depart from Gate 222 and that I could buy my return ticket from a NJ Transit machine for a mere $13. Easy peasy, or as we would say in Belfast (perhaps more aptly given my purchase only a few moments before), "wee buns!". And then it was off to my first destination of the day: Jersey Gardens Mall.
Firstly: a defence. Yes, I know, there are a million and one stores in New York. That there are in fact lots of discount stores in New York. That the branded products you buy in these outlet malls are often of a lesser quality than in the actual brand's main stores. However, I'm not into brand names, especially the ridonculously priced ones. Why would I want to spend $200 on a pair of jeans (even if they were originally $500) when I can buy a pair for $30 that are just as good? For me, the thrill of shopping is in spending next to no money on something I will actually be able to wear and machine wash time and time again and not panic when I inevitably spill coffee or drop mayo on it. No, mes amis, I did not go to the outlet mall place for cheap designer goods, I went for bargains!
And so, first, I went through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, then I went past the sea of twirly, swirly gumdrops and after that, I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel. ('Lil quote from Elf there for those who think I've gone nuts(er)). Actually though I took the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel instead. Then we passed Newark Liberty International Airport; you get very close to the planes on the New Jersey Turnpike, which I liked (every time I see a plane land or take off I shout "plaaaaaannnnneeeeeee!!!", much to my family's simultaneous amusement and shame every time, especially when we go to the Ikea café in Belfast, which overlooks the runway of the airport next door).
I also ate my Cupcake Café cupcake on the bus. It was… interesting. First off, it was kind of small, more the size of what we would call an iced fairy cake here, than a proper, cover-your-nose-in-frosting-when-you-bite-into-it sized cupcake. It was however beautifully decorated. The frosting was completely smooth except for a little frosting rose on the top. The cake was more like a pound cake than the lighter muffiny texture I like. The frosting just kinda tasted like cream to me; sweet cream, certainly, but cream nonetheless. Sadly I am not really a fan of cream, so it doesn't really rate amongst my favourite cupcakes ever. However I can see why they are some people's favourite - if you find most cupcakes too sugary but still enjoy a sweet treat occasionally, these are probably perfect for you.
And then suddenly there we were, at Jersey Gardens. It wasn't even 10am when I arrived and the place was kind of empty. I decided a good place to start was breakfast. I had actually been intending to go to IHOP for breakfast, purely for the novelty value since we don't have them in the UK, but it turns out the IHOP is actually not in the mall itself, but rather a trek through the huge car park and across two roads. With such a busy day ahead of me and my poorly hip, I decided to Starbucks it instead and enjoyed my multigrain bagel with cream cheese and white chocolate mocha whilst perusing the store directory leaflet.
I picked up some great bargains in the end actually. For myself I got a great rust-coloured top for $7, a lovely black and grey chunky knit jumper for $19.99, a chunky, stretchy belt for $8 and a pair of gorgeous flared jeans for $16.19, which were actually a size too big but which I have since been able to shrink with that old wash-them-on-a-boil-wash-to-make-them-a-size-smaller trick. I also bought my teenage brother a bright green Hollister hoodie for the remarkable price of $13.93 - the one he got for his birthday last year here in Belfast was like £40, so it was about a quarter of the price!
By the time I'd finished looking around all the stores I was interested in and had convinced my inner-shopaholic that I had neither enough money to buy much else, nor room in our luggage, my feet and hip were aching. After a Chillata from Cinnabon, which I hoped would give me a simultaneous sugar rush and caffeine high to get me through the rest of the afternoon, I headed back to the bus stop with my purchases, where a 115 heading back to Port Authority was already waiting for me - joy!
Back in Manhattan, I set off towards my next destination: Union Square. I walked over to Times Square (*shudder* we took agin' this horrendously tourist-filled area on our last trip) and jumped on the subway.
I only realised when I jumped off it again on 14th Street that I'd automatically gotten on the 1 instead of the N/Q/R, which meant I was over on 7th Avenue instead of Broadway and now had to hobble the extra three avenue blocks with my crutch and sore feet. Doh! I put my error down to learned behaviour, since our hotel on our last trip was close to the 1 line, so I was used to getting on at Times Square and heading straight for the 1. Alternatively I just wasn't paying attention, especially since my Super Neurotically Organised itinerary specifically told me I had to get the N/Q/R. That's what I get for ignoring my own forethinkage!
I eventually made it to Union Square and had a bit of a poke around a few shops there, like DSW and Nordstrom Rack. However those stores were more on the $400 reduced to $150 side of things, than in my league of $80 reduced to $5. There were some really pretty and interesting things though.
Eventually, without any further bargain finds and with my feet now pulsating with hurtiness, I limped my way across to Starbucks (yes, I have an addiction, I know), this time for one of my old favourites from my last trip that we don't get in the UK, namely a caramel apple spice. Yum! I also bought one of those mini vanilla bean scone things but it was just meh, like all Starbucks food (with the exception of the yummy Thanksgiving pumpkin muffin I had last time). I took my snack over to Union Square Park and sat on a bench to rest my feet and enjoy it.
Union Square Park was... odd. The park itself was pretty but it seemed to be full of strange people (I include myself in this statement). There were at least two complete crazies wandering around talking to (or rather at) people. At least only one was asking for money. The other just seemed to be in the mood for a snarking match with whoever would take him on. Whilst he settled his cross-marks on the rather heavy man sitting next to me, I snuck away, as inconspicuously as possible for a shuffling, overweight, auburn-haired Irishwoman, dressed in a black sleeping-bag-coat, clicking a crutch along on one side and carrying multiple shopping bags on the other.
When I left the park I came across two guys dressed as a red dog and a blue cat, just chilling out and having a chat on the corner opposite. I'm hoping they had some connection with the Petco store behind them or else that's just plain weird.
Next I had a look around a few more shops, including Fishs Eddy, which I loved and wanted to buy everything, but was not confident in my ability to get them home intact, not to mention afford it in the first place. I do actually need some big pasta bowls but I'm afraid they'll more likely be £3 ones from Ikea than $20 ones from Fishs Eddy, no matter how cute the New York skyline ones were (*sad face*).
By then my feet really were begging for mercy and my stomach was demanding to be fed something more substantial than three bites of mediocre scone, so I made my way to my next stop, Grimaldi's on 6th Avenue. My choice of eatery came from yet more of those "best in New York" discussions, this time for pizza. I know most of the places on these lists are tourist hotspots and that, really, pizza is pizza - it's pretty much all good (unless you're the Yorkshireman who oddly does not like pizza - weirdo!) - but since New York prides itself on its version of the stuff, I figured I'd give a "famous" one a try. John's, Lombardi's and Grimaldi's seemed to be mentioned most frequently and since Grimaldi's was right near my current shop-fest area, my choice was made for me.
Grimaldi's is actually inside an old church building, which was kind of weird but kind of cool. I was seated at a red and white checked table in the narrow space between the door and the main part of the restaurant and ordered a small regular pizza with pepperoni and a cream soda. My meal duly arrived with great ceremony and I took my first bite.
It was… good. Not OMG where have you been all my life fantastic, but tasty nonetheless. I liked the fresh basil especially, although there was a little too much cheese for my personal tastes; I'm a saucy kinda girl at heart! I've definitely had better pizza before but if you were in the area and looking for somewhere to grab some 'za (no, I can't get away with that at all, can I?), I would by all means recommend it.
I managed 4 of the 6 slices in my "small" (ha!) pizza and asked if I could have the rest to go. The rich smell followed me around for the rest of the afternoon, which was no bad thing really.
After lunch, I had a look in a few more stores in the area. I contemplated buying a cute art print in Papyrus for a friend and then didn't, and I found the New York Rangers' third jersey that I knew the Yorkshireman was hoping to buy in Sports Authority and made a note to tell him about it.
On my last stop of the day, Modell's, I finally tracked down some red Converse for not-so-baby brother under my mother's strict budget of "under $40" (the Converse store at Jersey Gardens had been a complete bust) and then limped, broken, back to the subway.
Back in our lovely hotel room I broke out another beer, unwrapped my Grimaldi's leftovers and settled down on the sofa to enjoy my book and the amazing views from the window at the same time. After about half an hour, the Yorkshireman arrived, equally exhausted from his own day of adventure and eager to tell me what he had been up to. We swapped stories and photos for a while (his were better than mine on both counts, but I still won on the bargain shopping stakes dammit!) and then decided it was time to go watch the NY Rangers game.
Sadly we didn't have tickets to go to this game in person but we figured a sports bar would be a good alternative. We'd spotted a bar across the road from our hotel called the Flying Puck, which sounded like an ice-hockey friendly bar if ever there was one. It actually turned out to be a New York Rangers bar and being only one block away from Madison Square Garden was perfectly situated for its theme. We actually really liked this bar and ended up going back twice more during our trip, once even when we were no longer staying across the road, we enjoyed it so much.
That night the NY Rangers were robbed of what should have been their victory against the New Jersey Devils. The Devils were leading 1-0 right up until a few seconds before the end, when the NY Rangers scored! We were going to overtime where we would surely score again and win the day!Everyone celebrated in the bar and on the TV... it was joyous! Then someone noticed that the referee had determined it was not a proper goal! Say whaaattt? They ruled that there had been interference with the goalie but from what I saw none of it was intentional and it was, in my humble opinion, a bad call.
So of course the Devils won, leaving the bar full of people shaking their heads and fists at the TVs. A very vocal and colourful girl appeared beside us who had clearly been at the game and announced to the bartender that she was angry. We shared her sentiments and decided to at least cheer her up a little by bequeathing our seats to her and her friend in the increasingly crowded bar.
Then we left, slightly buzzed from all the beer (including a free one thanks to the nice guy behind the bar), still irate and now also a little hungry, so we went in search of dinner. We remembered the lovely Chinese food we'd had from Gingers on our last trip and so made our way north. I was delighted that I had even remembered the cross-streets from last time (my brain works in mysterious ways) and it was still there, exactly the same as we remembered it. We ordered our food and took it back to our lovely hotel room.
We ate (very nice once again) whilst watching late night TV (The Daily Show and Colbert Report again the shining stars amongst the other poor to mediocre comedy shows on) and then retired to bed. Another day gone already and another action-packed day ahead of us tomorrow!
EDIT: I forgot to mention, that at face-off of the Rangers/Devils game, this happened... it was was awesome: